Mario Kart. Of all of Nintendo’s party games, this one sits near the pinnacle as the most beloved of them all, right next to Smash Bros (which is both a fighting game and a party game, so don’t get mad at me, Smash fans). These games have been the bane of many a friendship and the centerpiece of many a fun night.
I have played a lot of Mario Kart 8 over the years. In fact, I 100% completed it back on the Wii U, just as I completed the Switch version. Point is, I’ve played it a ton. So much so that none of my friends will ever play it with me anymore.
In leu of actually playing with people, I did the next best thing: everything. I got the top possible score for every Grand Prix on every CC, I beat all the Time Trial ghosts on both 150cc and 200cc, and I unlocked every single cart customization item. Everything this game has to offer, I have done.
And I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much of a mistake it was.
Mario Kart 8 is the most deceptive game I have ever played. It lures you in with a bright and colorful aesthetic, tempting you with some of the best graphics Nintendo has to offer. Every stage is a delight on the eyes, be it one of the calm snowy levels or one of the candy stages ripped straight from the racing game in Wreck-It Ralph. Coupled with the wonderful and varied music and you get one of the most innocent and fun looking games on the market.
This illusion is furthered by the simple but addictive gameplay. The goal is simple: win the race. Drive to the best of your abilities and use the wide selection of items you can pick up on the course to protect yourself or cause pain and misery to all those around you. It is simplicity at its highest form, yet it still manages to be stylish and cool thanks to the Gravity driving, MK8’s standout feature, which makes it so you can get a boost by bumping into certain stage obstacles or other players, thus adding an extra layer of strategy.
If you don’t feel like racing, there’s always the Battle mode. Which, thankfully, the Switch version fixed, because the Wii U version was super lame. You can play all sorts of fun little game modes as a break from the racing, like a team VS mode or a cops and robbers mode.
All of that makes for a delightfully fun and chaotic party game. Play it with your friends for a few hours, then stop when the urge to kill rises too high. Then give it a rest until everyone feels like playing it again.
That’s what most normal, sane people do. I decided to be… not that. I decided to do it all. And in doing so, I saw the true face of Mario Kart 8. I saw the monster hidden within this children’s party game.
The first hurdle was the Grand Prix mode. In this mode, you race on a preset list of four courses. At the end of each race, you get points for how you placed, fifteen being the maximum you can get. In order to truly complete this mode, one must finish all four races in first place. Doing so nets them a golden trophy and three stars.
For the slower speeds, this is so easy that it becomes boring. The challenge only picks up on 150cc, and even that isn’t particularly hard. Mirror 150cc is a bit more challenging. But none of them can compare to the absolute evil that is 200cc. That mode is so freaking fast that not even the AI can keep up with it properly!
But it wasn’t the speed that made Grand Prix mode a nightmare. It was the items.
I swear, this game will straight-up cheat if you’re going for 100% Grand Prix mode. I once was struck by lightning twice in one lap, the second time before I had even recovered from the first. On a 200cc cup, I was struck by five Blue Shells in one race; three of ’em were on the same lap! This game does not want you to win and it will pull out all of the stops to make sure you don’t.
Best of all? If you lose even one race, if you get second place even one time, you’ve got to go back and do it all again. I have lost track of the number of times I lost the lead right at the last lap of the last race. Half of those times, I lost the lead right at the finish line and had to redo the whole thing all over again just to redo ten seconds.
And yes: I did all of this for a golden trophy and three stars. Like a little kid trying to impress their parents with a crayon drawing. Only those kids get a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. All I got for my efforts was a sense of relief and regret.
But even that nightmare pales in comparison to the ultimate challenge: the Time Trial mode. These are the most simple part of the game. Choose a track and beat is as quickly as you can. You’ve got three speed-up mushrooms to help you out, allowing use of shortcuts, provided you know where to find ’em. It’s an innocent little practice mode where you’re only goal is to do better than you did last time.
At least, that’s what it is if you can ignore the g-g-ghosts!
Every single track is accompanied by a premade ghost. In order to achieve 100% in-game completion, you need to beat the time of every single one of these. Some of them are so easy that you can do it in one try. Others, however, are absolutely brutal!! You’ll need to learn to play certain stages perfectly in order to beat their times.
Its hard enough with the 150cc ghosts. Some of those took me hours of repeated attempts. But they are nothing compared to the 200cc ghosts! 200cc is already hard enough, but when you’re racing a ghost that is doing the stage almost perfectly at that speed, it becomes nearly impossible. If you make even one mistake, it’s over. And if you do it on a stage with obstacles? You’re going to be trying over and over and over for days. Not hours. Actual days.
But on the bright side, I did learn some really cool speedrunning tech for some of these stages. Not that I’ll ever use them; if I ever have to play on Toad’s Turnpike ever again, I’m going to jump in front of real traffic.
And what do you get for it all? For getting all the gold trophies and stars in Grand Prix mode and for beating all of the 150cc and 200cc Time Trial ghosts? What is the ultimate reward for forcing yourself through that hell?
Golden kart customization options. Which leads me to my final demon: the karts themselves.
You see, MK8 allows you to build your own little kart. Choose the body, wheels, and glider, then hop into the race. If you want to unlock all of them, you’ll need to collect as many coins from the track as you can during each race. Even then, the most you can get from a single race is 10 coins per player.
How many coins do you need to unlock every single kart customization option (excluding a few that are locked behind the aforementioned challenges)? 10,000. You need ten freakin’ grand to unlock every single item in this game. With friends, this isn’t such a bad grind.
But remember: my friends don’t play Mario Kart with me anymore. So I had to grind out all 10k alone. And can you guess how much I had when I finished with Grand Prix mode and Time Trial mode? By that point, I only had 4k. I wasn’t even halfway there.
Thus we reach the most boring, painful, and longest lasting part of the challenge: the grind. Even after completing every challenge the game had to offer, I had to go right back and keep on racing until I had acquired enough wealth to finally retire. In order to expedite this process, I had to setup all four players in a no-AI race, then go through the course four times with each of them to max out the coins.
If this sounds incredibly lonely, pathetic, and not at all worthwhile, that’s because it was.
“Why didn’t you just play races online?” I hear you ask. A valid point. However, there were two things standing in my way. One: Nintendo online play is bad; I didn’t want to spend money for a terrible online experience. And two: finishing an online race with all ten coins is a much harder feat than you might expect, making it an inefficient way to complete the grind. So online racing went pretty much ignored.
This is the real final challenge of Mario Kart 8. You’re beyond the point where the game is infuriating. It’s done crushing your spirits with nigh impossible challenges and last-second Grand Prix resets. Once you reach this point, the game stops being… anything. It isn’t cute, fun, and chaotic. It isn’t infuriating and soul-crushing. It’s just tedious.
Twice now I’ve done this, on two separate consoles. And twice now, I’ve made the same mistake. Mario Kart 8 is a sponge that I’ve squeezed until it’s become crusty. In my desire to achieve all that this game has to offer, to unlock all there is to unlock, I’ve completely stripped away everything that made me love the game in the first place.
There are plenty of games out there that are fulfilling to complete 100%. There are plenty of games that will greatly reward you for the effort. This game is not one of those games. All there is is suffering, regret, and then nothing.
And you know what the real kicker is? Mario Kart 8 still isn’t done. Nintendo has been releasing all-new DLC for this game, and will continue to do so all throughout this year and 2023. For others, this is delightful news; they’ll get even more of the game they love.
But for me? That simply means that I’m not done. Because even after all this, I haven’t learned my lesson. When it comes time for more another Grand Prix and more Time Trials, I’ll be there to do it all over again.
Let this article be a warning to all of you. Don’t become like me. Don’t peel away the veil of fun and innocence this game projects. Take Mario Kart 8 at surface level. Trust me, this is one rabbit hole you don’t want to dive into. You won’t find Wonderland down here.
I’m going outside to touch grass now. Maybe that’ll make me feel better for having wasted so many hundreds of hours of my life on a children’s racing game…